"Did you see the Eastsider LA story about the book," I asked Bob as he walked in the door after work.
"Yeah. And don't worry. There were people defending you too."
"Defending me? What?"
"In the comments. You didn't read them? Don't."
"No. I didn't read them. They were mean?"
"They weren't only mean."
Shit. Not again. It all comes rushing back. I'm naked, surrounded by total strangers who are pointing and laughing at my not-as-fit-as-it-used-to-be naked body. Did I mention I'm naked? These strangers are drawing diagrams around my body... like commentators at a football game. They are circling the flaws. Both inner and outer. There's no escape.
Other people's opinions
I know how it goes because I experienced it when we were in the midst of losing our house... when I had first started blogging. I knew that writing about our huge debt, financial mistakes and foreclosure would attract opinions. A lot of opinions. And I'm of the mind that everyone is entitled to their opinion. They may be misguided. But still. We all have them. We all make snap judgements about people based on sometimes even the tiniest morsel of information. At least most of us do that. The ones that don't? I admire them. Greatly. Do they really exist?
Here's the thing, most of us have these snap judgements but don't go posting them online in the comment section. Most of us don't wish perfect strangers ill. Most of us don't get online and point and point an laugh at people when they're down. We either keep our judgements to ourselves or we acknowledge them and let them go because we realize that no one is actually perfect. We realize that we aren't perfect. And we have compassion. For ourselves and others. We have the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and at least try to imagine what it might be like for them.
My very own internet haters
Back in 2009 I made the mistake of reading the comments section on the Curbed LA article.
This is what I learned about us from the comments section...
According to various anonymous posters, we are:
-We have poor taste in music
-We are liars who lied about our finances
-We deserve everything that is happening to us
-We are gamblers
-We are scammers
-We will probably end up getting divorced and one particular commenter actually said they hoped that we did. (seriously)
Some of those commenters actually researched the terms of our mortgage from both our house and our condo. (I can only imagine how much time they wasted doing this!)
They speculated on which house we actually lived in. They made fun of our neighborhood. They made fun of the fact that I was a failed writer. They criticized the fact that we re-financed our mortgage. Bring me one homeowner who wouldn't at least try to refinance when interest rates drop. Banks buy and sell mortgages all the time and a homeowner it isn't considered "good form" to refinance?! Anyway... that's an entirely new can of worms.
They assumed that we were flippers since we were in such a hurry to renovate the house. They made up stories about us. They spent a lot of time talking about all the mistakes we had made and how awful we are as human beings.
I let them get to me
To say that this bothered me, well, is a gross understatement. I felt sick to my stomach for days after reading the comments. I fell into a pit of despair wherein I just beat myself up with the belief that these anonymous strangers were right about me. I am a horrible person and deserve every horrible thing happening to me. Then I got so pissed at myself for caring what complete strangers think about me and allowing their uninformed snap judgements bring me down.
I'd already beat myself up enough for landing in the situation we were in. And that was no secret. I wrote about that in the open on the blog. I made it clear that we didn't look at ourselves as victims. Not in the least. We acknowledged that we were responsible for our situation and that's exactly what gave us the power to be able to keep everything in perspective. Besides, we were trying to do everything to make it right. We weren't strategically walking away from our house like so many people are doing nowadays. These anonymous jerks didn't know us. And bless them for all their perfection. I'm sure they've never made a single mistake.
"Attention Seeking Whores"?
And we are total attention whores for writing publicly about our financial drama.
Well, I've been called a drama queen and attention-seeker before. By my family. The people that know me best. But they never said it in a disparaging way. But rather in a loving way. Okay, I admit. I definitely have a flair for the dramatic. And as a kid, my favorite line was, "Mom! LOOK AT ME!!!!"
I'm a Leo, after all. So, attention-seeking is a personality trait that I've battled/embraced/battled my whole life. I've always felt like it was wrong to be someone who wants attention. And this is why that comment really stung. Because I didn't want to be an "attention whore." I just wanted to help people. By sharing what we were going through. Because NOBODY WAS DOING IT. NO ONE. Not one other person.
At the time that I started the blog, foreclosure was a word you whispered, not shouted. People weren't talking about it. Some not even to their own spouses. And certainly not in public places. As someone who was facing losing our house, I wanted to read a first-person perspective. I wanted to know what to expect. I wanted to know how to avoid it. How to course-correct. I wanted to know we weren't alone.
This was the genesis for the blog. I wrote about openly about foreclosure because no one else was doing it. I wrote about our foreclosure and our commitment to learn from our mistakes because it helped us get through it. I wrote about the drama because I am a writer and I process by writing. And it helped. It helped us. And it helped others too.
But you know this, lovely readers. Those of you who have been here since the beginning. You know.
But more importantly, I know. We know. We know who we are and what we're out to create. We know that we're far from perfect. We know that as hard as we try, we'll never completely have our shit together. We'll never be perfect. But we can learn. And make up for our mistakes by not repeating them. By reaching out to others. By being a voice for positivity.
How to not care what the haters think
Needless to say, after my Curbed LA experience, I chose not to read the comments on the Eastsider LA post. I was told that in addition to the haters, there were also people defending us. Just like on the Curbed LA post. And that's nice. But I am really working on not caring what total strangers think of us and instead focus on what is within my control...
Being a responsible, generous, loving and authentic human being.
I don't always succeed in every area. But I get a new chance to make that effort every day. Every moment, actually. Every moment is a choice to either be great or something else.
As my grandma and probably every grandma in history used to say:
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
In this internet day in age, that has changed to:
"If you don't have anything nice to say to their face, go online and say it anonymously."
So, anonymous commenters, I say to you:
Thank you for being such a shining light of perfection in this world. I don't know what we'd do without people like you who are so unburdened by compassion and have never made a single mistake in your entire life.
Did I "ask" for this?
I suppose so. I did choose to put myself out there in a very public way. Not only did I write about an embarrassing topic on my blog, I also wrote a book. I really put myself out there.
Having unflattering things written about you is not fun. It can really sting. It all comes with the territory, though. If you choose to create and put something into the world, you're going to open yourself up to opinions and judgements. That is the price. It just is. And the quantity of haters only increases as your impact in the world grows.
As such, fear of other people's judgements is what keeps a lot of people from putting themselves out there.
So what do you do? Hold back? Hell, no.
Ignore the haters. And just keep on putting yourself out there.
I'm glad I did.
Because I know it makes a difference.
How? Because you tell me that it does.
Thank you for telling me. It really does help to know that.
How else to deal with the hate?
Take Tim Ferriss' advice
Tim Ferriss is the author of the bestsellers- The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body. Bob and I are both big fans of him and his out-of-the-box approach to life. He is someone who holds nothing back. And he's also not a stranger to internet haters. His video presentation "Tim Ferriss Scam! Learning to Love Haters: Practical Tactics" is really eye-opening.
And tip #5 from the Mashable interview with Tim Ferriss- 7 Great Principles for Dealing with Haters - is especially helpful:
5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)
“Another way to phrase this is through a more recent quote from Elbert Hubbard,” Ferriss says. “‘To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Ferriss, who holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive tango spins, says he has learned to enjoy criticism over the years. Ferriss, using Roman philosophy to expand on his point, says: “Cato, who Seneca believed to be the perfect stoic, practiced this by wearing darker robes than was customary and by wearing no tunic. He expected to be ridiculed and he was, he did this to train himself to only be ashamed of those things that are truly worth being ashamed of. To do anything remotely interesting you need to train yourself to be effective at dealing with, responding to, even enjoying criticism… In fact, I would take the quote a step further and encourage people to actively pursue being thought foolish and stupid.”
New goal: Learn to enjoy criticism.
What a difference that would make! I figure that the more books I sell, the more criticism.
I hope to get lots of practice.